“It’s the most exciting concert of my career so far. It’s just an unbelievable opportunity!”
Stéphane Tétreault is thrilled to be performing for the very first time with The Philadelphia Orchestra (in Verizon Hall, October 7 and 8, 8 PM). And the fact that this incredibly young (he’s 23) French Canadian phenomenon will be playing the Saint-Saëns First Cello Concerto only adds to his excitement.
“I remember that Shostakovich used to say the Saint-Saëns is the most perfect cello concerto,” says Tétreault, “which is amazing, because obviously the Dvořák is played much more often; it’s a much bigger ‘adventure’ if you will. But I think he’s right!”
Tétreault calls the Saint-Saëns the first “adult” concerto that cello students tackle. He was just 12 years old when he began studying it with famed cellist Yuli Turovsky in Montreal, working on the piece for two years straight. The practice paid off: He’s performed the work with several orchestras, and it’s featureed on his debut CD.
“It’s a terrific concerto; very romantic and virtuosic. The melodies are very, very touching. It’s also a beautifully crafted work. Everything is linked, masterfully; it’s beautifully written. I think the toughest thing about it is that it’s one of the shortest concertos we have. The Dvořák usually comes in at between 40 and 45 minutes; this is about 20. It’s very compact. So you keep that in mind, and try to express everything and make sure it all makes sense, that everything fits together. That’s a challenge!”
On the other hand, the way the Concerto is constructed makes it a joy to listen to.
“I think the initial theme. The way it starts is rather fiery, very intense, very exciting. Then later on, the theme is developed. It comes back in the third movement as well, transformed into something altogether different,” says Tétreault. “I think that’s interesting, the way Saint-Saëns took one or a couple of themes and made them all intertwine throughout the piece. I think listening to that, by recalling, let’s say, the beginning theme at the end of the Concerto with different harmonies and a different structure, can create a very exciting, enthralling performance!”
A superb musician, a wonderful piece, a great orchestra … oh, and an amazing cello, too. He plays the 1707 “Countess of Stainlein” Stradivarius, once owned by famed violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini, on generous loan by Mrs. Jacqueline Desmarais. More recently, the instrument belonged to Bernhard Greenhouse, a founding member of the Beaux Arts Trio.
“It’s a very special cello. It’s one of the most incredible instruments in the world. I’m very fortunate to be able to accompany a great cello on its very rich history, and a very long journey. Everyone leaves his or her imprint on a cello, and that cello throughout the years develops its own unique personality. It’s really quite a magical experience to be able to discover all the different colors and nuances you can create with it. The possibilities are endless. That for a musician is I think all you can ask for.”
The icing on the cake for Tétreault at this concert? Performing with the Fabulous Philadelphians.
“I know Yannick very well. We’ve worked together on a number of occasions. We’ve done the Elgar, the Dvořák, and the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations, but this will be our first time with the Saint-Saëns. And I’ve heard The Philadelphia Orchestra in concert many times, to my great happiness. It’s such a fabulous orchestra; I’m in awe every time I hear it. The musicians are so amazing. Yannick is so amazing. We’re both super excited about these concerts!”
Stéphane Tétreault performs the Saint-Saëns First Cello Concerto with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin October 7 and 8 at 8 PM. The concerts also feature Berlioz’s Le Corsaire Overture and Symphonie fantastique. For tickets and more information, please click here.
Photo by Luc Robitaille